Greening the Salt-impaired Lands by Crop Diversification: A Success Story from Pali, Rajasthan

A collaborative work between ICAR-CSSRI, Karnal and ICAR-CAZRI KVK, Pali was undertaken to enhance the livelihood resilience of a resource-poor farming community- increasingly grappling with multiple stressors- in Pali district of Rajasthan, India. The aim was to align the proven institutional technologies with the time-tested local practices to sustain the crop production and enhance the farmers’ income in the salt-affected soils. Although open-well irrigation system has been quite effective in sustaining the crop production in the study area, a set of factors- silting, poor upkeep and strong climate variability- have caused appreciable degradation in water availability and quality over the past decade. A total of 86 farmers from five villages (Rampura, Rupawas, Dholeria, Mukanpura and Hemawas) of Pali district, facing soil and water salinity problems, climate change impacts and poor access to institutional knowledge, were mobilized through applying different extension tools including, farm visits and transect walks, personal interactions, Focus Group Discussions and Farmer-Scientists Goshthis.

The overall aim was to enhance their adaptive capacity by correctly diagnosing soil and water salinity levels, to suggest appropriate salinity management technologies and to supply them with improved high yielding seeds of salt tolerant varieties.

Diagnosing the problems: The farmers’ fields in the study were sandy loam to clay loam in texture and moderately saline. The soil pH2 varied from 7.78 to 9.33 (mean = 8.67) and soil EC2 from 0.29 to 7.40 dS/m (mean= 1.46 dS/m). Over 75% of the open-well water samples were mostly highly saline (ECiw 5.0-13.2 dS/m) and unsuitable for irrigation. About 25% of the samples had moderate salinity (ECiw 0.40-5.0 dS/m) and were being used in irrigation. A strong majority of the study farmers (~80.0%) agreed that climate variability- reduced number of rainy days and extreme climate events- has aggravated over the past two-three decades. This, together with low educational status and poor access to institutional knowledge, has considerably enhanced their vulnerability.

Approach: The stakeholder-approach was adopted to assist the farmers in desilting the open-wells, the lifelines of farming in the study area, and to make crop diversification a feasible and remunerative option among the sampled farmers. Specifically, the interventions included distribution of Soil Health Cards, agro-advisories (measures for the de-silting of open-wells and the conjunctive use of irrigation waters), supply of seeds/saplings of salt tolerant (wheat cv. KRL-210, mustard cv. CS-54) and other locally adapted improved crop varieties (mung-bean cv. IPM02-3, sesame cv. RT-351, muskmelon cv. Kajari and budded plants of ber cv. Gola), improved management practices for field and horticultural crops, and off-campus farmers’ training for risk mitigation.

 

Diversification: Increase in farmers’ income and other benefits

  • For the Rabi season interventions, the percentage increase in net return (INR/ha) ranged from 16.60% (CS-54 mustard-muskmelon) to 28.90% (CS54 mustard- sesame). The percentage increase in net return in diversification components including wheat cv. KRL-210 (wheat-khejri, wheat-sesame) was ≥20.0%.
  • During the Kharif season, intercropping of mung-bean in khejri or ber plantations also resulted in appreciable improvements in net return i.e., 23.50 and 28.50%, respectively.

Impact of crop diversification interventions on farmers’ income under rainfed saline agroecosystems*

Diversification component

Net return (INR/ha)

% Increase

Before

After

A. Rabi season

Net change

KRL-210 wheat(irrigated)-khejri (Prosopis cineraria)**

45,125

53,875

8,750

19.4

KRL-210 wheat-muskmelon

78,350

92,100

13,750

17.5

KRL-210 wheat-sesame

35,625

43,850

8,225

23.1

CS-54 mustard (two irrigations)-khejri

40,340

48,850

8,510

21.1

CS-54 mustard (two irrigations)-muskmelon

73,550

85,760

12,210

16.6

CS-54 mustard (two irrigations)-sesame (residual moisture)

25,640

33,040

7,400

28.9

B. Kharif season

 

 

 

 

Mung-bean (rainfed)-khejri

33,250

41,050

7,800

23.5

Mung-bean (rainfed)-ber cv. Gola

60,300

77,500

17,200

28.5

*interventions were made during 2017-2021; **Khejri trees are commonly planted by the study farmers (6-8 trees/ha);

 

  • Economically and ecologically, diversification led by mung-bean with ber was promising (net return of INR 77,500/ha) with a minimum input use including benefits of soil health and animal fodder.

Greening the Salt-impaired Lands by Crop Diversification: A Success Story from Pali, Rajasthan

  • These interventions, in addition to directly improving the farm net return, also improved the food and fodder availabilities; a majority of the beneficiary farmers perceived.
  • Notably, they were now in a better position to cope with fodder shortages by intercropping mung-bean with khejri; particularly during the lean Kharif season.

Greening the Salt-impaired Lands by Crop Diversification: A Success Story from Pali, Rajasthan

  • Another major outcome was that a majority of the study farmers (63.0%) were now aware of the importance of sustainable soil health, and expressed their willingness for balanced fertilizer use as per agro-advisories provided along with Soil Health Cards.
  • We also noticed an appreciable improvement in water availability and quality from the open-wells posts these interventions.
  • Thanks to our efforts, most of the study farmers de-silted their open-wells and started applying saline (ECiw 5.0-13.2 dS/m) and relatively less saline (ECiw 0.40-5.0 dS/m) waters conjunctively for better crop yields and soil resilience.

Lessons learned: Although diversified interventions have definitely alleviated the multiple risks to a great extent, community-based wide-scale interventions remain inevitable to ensuring durable improvements in open-well water quality. It was also realized that refining local practices, such as, open-well led irrigation systems in this case, and bringing more salt-affected area under integrated tree-salt tolerant crop cover can enhance the sustainability of salt-affected soils and waters.

Source: ICAR-Central Soil Salinity Research Institute (ICAR), Karnal, Haryana and ICAR-Central Arid Zone Research Institute, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Pali, Rajasthan)